Sheryl Lee Ralph has been named one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, which honors women who have had a particularly positive influence on their communities and the nation as a whole. Hollywood has a dynamic reputation. You might reach unimaginable heights because of it. And occasionally it knocks you into the valley.
Sheryl Lee Ralph originally rose to fame at the 1981 Broadway premiere of “Dreamgirls.” She is now receiving her greatest awards while sporting the outfits of a kindergarten teacher from the TV series “Abbott Elementary”.
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Between, there were the years with little to no work and the bit parts.
“There have been moments where I thought, “Well, if I quit now I have had a great career.’ No one could say that wasn’t true,” she shared. “But I didn’t quit. I kept moving on. I kept believing.”
She started the DIVA Foundation to help friends who were HIV/AIDS positive instead of plunging into that abyss and turning into an activist. She appeared onscreen alongside legendary Hollywood actors.
And then she received a call inviting her to join “Abbott Elementary,” where she portrays the harsh but loving teacher Barbara Howard, a role subconsciously influenced by the mother of co-star and show creator Quinta Brunson.
“And here I am,” Ralph noted, “as Barbara Howard in the No. 1 television show around the world.”
She won an Emmy for supporting actress in a comedy in September, becoming only the second Black woman to do so. A few days after I spoke with Ralph, the cast of “Abbott Elementary” received a Screen Actors Guild Award for best ensemble work in a comedy series.
Sheryl Lee Ralph In the ABC television series “Abbott Elementary,” Lisa Ann Walter plays Melissa Schemmenti and Ralph plays Barbara Howard.
When she sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” dubbed as the unofficial Black national anthem, at the Super Bowl Sunday, with an audience span of millions. This particular performance allowed others to witness the powerhouse shine in that moment of highlight.
Even while the song has long been a staple of pregame performances, this was the first year it was actually sung during a game inside the stadium. Conservatives derided the NFL for what they saw as its polarizing nature.
Ralph decided to disregard the criticism. She made the decision to rise rather than plunge into the valley of bitterness.
“There can be those that can say, ‘But it’s not for me.’ When in fact, it is for all of us,” she said of the song, which was written to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. “It’s for all of us to rise up together in pursuit of liberty and justice – for all. There’s nothing more American than that.”
During her interview with USA Today she was asked about her Super Bowl performance which was tear-jerking.
“The number of people that said they cried, that they shed tears of joy, that they were happy to hear that song at that place. And it was the very first time that the NFL had “Lift Every Voice and Sing” inside the stadium. It’s usually outside somewhere or on a remote location. And this time, here it was center stage. I got to deliver it, and it was magic.”
The interviewer went on to ask Ralph if her experience of receiving her first Emmy award was a special moment.
“There’s something very, very special happening to me right now that I can’t even describe. All I can do is lean into it. All I can do is respond to the calls. All I can do is rise to the occasion of my own life. These are all of my dreams come true … All I can do is just keep being me.”
When questioned about her childhood role model, Ralph responded, “I’m an immigrant child; my mother is from Jamaica. And my mother never wanted me to lose my roots in Jamaica. Why was that important? Because in Jamaica, with so many people of African descent, I was always able to see greatness. I would go to Jamaica and the doctor, the lawyer, the bishop, the minister, the politician, you name it, the person who owned the stores – all of the people that were running things and doing things, they were Black people. So for me, there were all of those people to look up to – all of them. And they were setting an incredible example for me. “
Ralph noted that her current role models are her children, “her I look at my children. I look at my son and I look at my daughter – how they’re growing. And I look at their impact on their worlds and their friends. My son had a response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and he said we have to heal. He said we can’t just protest, we must heal. So he created something with his sister and his cousin called “Walk Good.” It’s a phrase in Jamaica. We say “walk good.” It means walk safely, walk carefully, be covered, come back good. And they do yoga.”
She added,” Since the killing of Ahmaud, about 150 to 200 young people of color come together every Sunday to heal, to speak their truth and exercise yoga. I look at them in their own movement and their own good choices. I look at my husband, Sen. Vincent Hughes, holding to the task of being a public servant, not just a politician, but a public servant, doing the good work for the people. And not just some of the people; all of the people. It’s pretty amazing.”
Sheryl Lee Ralph has been selected as a national Women of the Year recipient by USA TODAY for her role as Barbara Howard on the ABC comedy “Abbott Elementary”, for which she won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, she is a well-known actress. She is the first Black woman to get the honor in 35 years.
When asked about her proudest moment the actress replied, “I have so many proud moments. I’m very proud of myself, being able to have a healthy child, being able to deliver a healthy child twice. It is not that easy for a woman, any woman, but especially for a woman of color to deliver a healthy child for a lot of reasons that are sometimes out of our control. I married my first husband and had two children. It didn’t last, but I was strong enough to choose myself and free myself from that and keep moving forward. I married my second husband; we’ve been married a long time now. What a wonderful choice. I made that choice for myself. I was nominated for a Tony. And I was nominated for an Emmy. And I won it. I was nominated for a Critics Choice Award. And I won it. I sang at the Super Bowl to a quiet stadium – 70,000 people and they were listening to me. Wow. I have had so many proud moments. And they’re not over yet. There’s more to come.”
Even though the Moesha alum had some great moments Ralph can also recall one of her lowest moments vividly and that was getting a divorce, “I think divorce is horrible. If you’re going to divorce somebody that you used to love or still love a little bit, why don’t you just cut yourself and then rip the skin off? That would feel much better than a divorce. That was one of the lowest, most horrible times in my whole life. So when I say I had a proud moment of being able to lift myself up out of that, and with the ability to carry on – that was horrible. My parents dying. I lost my dad to prostate cancer. And he suffered. And it was horrible. I lost my mother to heart disease. And she suffered. And it was horrible. And I’m probably never, ever going to forget it or get over it.”
As it pertains to her fight against adversity Ralph noted, “I think you just have to see it for what it is and carry on. But you’re not going to stop. You can’t stop. You carry on through the storm. Like Chaka Khan said, Through the fire, through whatever come what may, I carry on.”
Ralph noted that a lot had contributed to her success by paving the way nut her mother and father or the leading contributors,” So many women, so many men, so many people have paved the way for me. But I would have to say that my greatest champions have been my mother and my father. I have to thank my parents for everything they poured into me. I know that’s why I am who I am. I lost my parents; both of them have passed away. And sadly, I really wish they were here to see all of this. I really wish they could be a part of this.”
When asked about a piece of advice she would have given to her younger self? She remarked, “I have given myself some advice, my younger self some advice in the past, and I would continue to give her the same advice: You are all right. You will be all right. You are perfect just the way God made you. Have patience, not just with yourself but with everybody else. … And don’t be afraid to give as much as you can to others, because you’re going be all right. There will be moments when you will be the underdog. But trust me, there will come the day, like it or not, that the underdog will be on top.”